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6 months of war: Palestinians say the U.S. government lacks empathy for their plight


Turning now to the war between Israel and Hamas, another round of cease-fire talks is underway in Cairo. Six months into the war, more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials. Most are women and children. U.N. officials warn Gaza faces imminent famine. We spoke to Yousef Munayyer when all this began. He is a Palestinian senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington, D.C., which researches Arab-U.S. relations. And we've reached out to him again. Thank you for being with us.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Thanks for having me, Ayesha.

RASCOE: We spoke to you just a day after the October 7 attacks. As a Palestinian, what's been on the top of your mind as you've watched the past six months unfold?

MUNAYYER: I think for most Palestinians around the world, it's just been a nonstop stream of horrific images that we are confronted with day after day. And that's effectively been how Palestinians around the world have been spending the last six months - in absolute horror.

RASCOE: Has anything struck you or surprised you the most about this war?

MUNAYYER: You know, I think what we've seen on the ground is not something that surprised me, because I think, given what we know Israelis have been capable of in terms of their treatment of Palestinians within Israeli society and policy circles, I wasn't so much surprised by how Israel was treating Palestinians throughout this war. What did, I think, surprise me was the extent to which the rest of the world - and in particular the United States and the Biden administration - were willing to tolerate the continuation of these horrors. And there's no doubt in my mind that leverage has been available to President Biden the entire time to bring an end to this war. I expected Israel to do horrific things to Palestinians, but I also expected that at some point American leaders would find their conscience.

RASCOE: You talk to friends and family in the occupied Palestinian territories. What are you hearing from them?

MUNAYYER: I think from folks in Gaza, there's a real shock that the outside world hasn't done more to stop this already. So there's almost a disbelief that the rest of the world understands what's happening and isn't doing something to stop it. For Palestinians in the West Bank, of course, there is a great fear over the situation there - the deepening of the occupation, the violence from Israeli settlers who have increasingly run amok in the West Bank with support of an extreme-right government in Israel.

And in the last several months, we've also seen a record number of Palestinians killed in the West Bank by the Israeli military. And it's - for Palestinians who are inside Israel itself, they are at once horrified by what they are seeing on the ground in Gaza, horrified by what they're seeing in the West Bank, and also terrified to say anything about it because of the repression and the costs of speaking out in Israeli society as a Palestinian against what the Israeli military is doing to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

RASCOE: What worries you the most as you look ahead?

MUNAYYER: I find myself thinking a lot about the next genocide. This is something that might be hard to wrap our heads around, but, you know, this is the largest number of Palestinians that the Israelis have ever been able to get away with killing. There's a precedent being set now is that this is OK. There's no doubt in my mind that the Israeli military and the government - which wants to hold on to the West Bank forever - can repeat these horrors again.

RASCOE: We should note that while there is an allegation of genocide with the International Court of Justice, Israel has dismissed those allegations. We asked you this question six months ago, and I want to ask it to you once more. Is there a path to de-escalation?

MUNAYYER: You know, I believe I told you then, and I continue to believe, it comes through the application of international law. And that's the only way that you get to justice. As you introduced our conversation, you talked about Israel sort of working to eradicate Hamas. There are few things that I think are more ridiculous than the idea that that's what Israel is actually working towards here. And I'll tell you why with a little story about a 9-year-old boy from Gaza. He watched the Israeli military kill his uncle before his eyes in Khan Yunis. This story could have been from the last six months, but it's not. It's from 1956, when Israeli soldiers killed 300 Palestinians in Khan Yunis. That 9-year-old boy, Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi - he grew up to found Hamas many years later. How many children like that have survived horrors? What is going to happen with them?

The blood that Israel has shed in Gaza over the last several months are going to water the seeds of opposition and resistance to Israel for generations to come. So there has to be a way to break out of this, and it can't be through the continuation of war and the continuation of violence.

RASCOE: Yousef Munayyer is a senior fellow at the Arab Center Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for joining us.

MUNAYYER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.